Back in the swing of things

After a month of vacation, I’m finally back at work for two weeks in between Peace Corps trainings. The first training was for all the English teachers in my cohort; we had several days with our counterparts and school directors to look back at a semester’s worth of work, challenges, and successes. At the second training, I’ll learn how to write grants and see a project through from start to finish with a local counterpart.

The first month of last semester was empty; it took several months for me to find my groove and develop a schedule. That’s not the case AT ALL this semester, even if I might have wanted a slower reintroduction to work. I’ve been busy writing syllabi for conversation classes with my counterpart. We’ll be teaching a group of 1st-year students; though it’ll be more challenging to teach to their level of English, it seems like they’re more enthusiastic than the 4th-year students. I’m hoping the high attendance levels stick for at least a few weeks.

I’m also jumping right into a busy club schedule. I learned a lot about clubs last semester, and I’ve kept those lessons in mind while planning what I want to teach and how. I tried (and failed) to teach a general “talking club” for university students; high turnover and low participation level from attendees made it the most miserable hour of my week. It was no coincidence that I was sick so often on afternoons when I had that club… So this semester, I’m setting up two talking clubs that will follow broad topics (media, so we can listen to music and read newspapers, and American culture, so I can hit two birds with one stone and show pictures of the U.S. while also practicing English). I’m keeping my club for high school students and a creative writing course.

Last semester, I launched a program at my university to give methodology trainings to 3rd and 4th-year students who are doing student teaching. The group, aptly named the Future English Teachers Club, was a success – 9 students came to all 4 sessions I did, and as a group, we came up with a plan for a new, expanded curriculum. I’m pumped to start this club again, and I’m hoping that more aggressive advertising and word-of-mouth will mean a bigger turnout. I’m also hoping to take some of the sessions I do with my university students to villages around Jalal-Abad City. Even teachers who’ve been working for 5 years can benefit from a reminder about setting good goals for each lesson and for the school-year. I’ve been collecting feedback and advice from volunteers in northern regions who’ve been leading teacher training programs like this — they’ve been a big inspiration for me, and I think I can work with local leaders and organizations to build some helpful infrastructure for young teachers looking for professional development.

When the idea of making a big schedule for teacher trainings around my region first popped into my head, I was nothing but excited to start visiting villages and give trainings. It would be easy for me to hop around villages and give trainings, but the whole point of Peace Corps is to foster sustainable development. Who will lead the trainings and develop training plans after I leave here in 17 months? Now that I’m talking with other volunteers and have made my first visit to a village, I’m realizing that this project is going to be much bigger than I first anticipated – it will require a lot of planning, a lot of networking, and a lot of time.

When I first read my site placement in Jalal-Abad, I was thrilled to go to a region that hasn’t seen volunteers in half a decade. It’s a blank slate down here, and the lack of Peace Corps presence and US Embassy programming means that there’s tons of excitement and need here. A semester into teaching, I see more clearly just how challenging it is to start from scratch – volunteers in northern regions that haven’t had a break in Peace Corps presence since 1993 have inherited an infrastructure of teacher trainings and a familiarity with what a volunteer can do for a community. They have site mates who have been in Kyrgyzstan for 20-some months already, who have hundreds of contacts and know the process of getting projects like this off the ground. I don’t have that advantage, but I’m looking forward to the challenge.

Onward ho!

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